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  Directed by
    None Listed
  Starring
  Specs
  • Widescreen 2.35:1
  • 16:9 Enhanced
  • Dual Layer ( )
  Languages
  • English: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  • Spanish: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  • Portuguese: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  • Catalan: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  Subtitles
    English, Spanish, Portuguese, English - Hearing Impaired
  Extras
  • Audio commentary
  • Featurette
  • Animated menus
  • DVD-ROM features
  • Interviews
  • Storyboards
  • Film highlights
  • Interactive game
  • DTS trailer

Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron

Universal/Universal . R4 . COLOR . 80 mins . G . PAL

  Feature
Contract

Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron is a well-intentioned, beautifully crafted and technically superb animated masterpiece that will probably bore most adult viewers to tears, but a younger demographic should love it to death.

It's the story of a brave stallion (voiced by Matt Damon), living in the Old American West, who is captured by a squadron of pale-skinned soldiers and almost broken by a sadistic Colonel (James Cromwell), who sees the mustang as the personification (well, horseonification) of all of the challenges that taming this New World will entail.

After escaping from the barracks along with an Indian prisoner, the young brave Little Creek, he sets out on a quest to rejoin his lost herd. But the soldiers aren't going to give up on this rebellious horse, dubbed "Spirit" by his Native American friend, without a fight...

Bravely, the film-makers resisted the easy solution of giving the horses human voices. Matt Damon narrates the story from Spirit's point-of-view, but the exchanges between the horses consist solely of neighing and grunting. Of course, they are anthropomorphised to an extent: they're a heck of a lot smarter and more emotional than real animals, and the addition of eyebrows and expressive mouths allow them to emote at the expense of naturalism.

To compensate for the lack of dialogue, a collection of songs by Bryan Adams illustrates much of the action. It's fashionable these days to bash the Canadian crooner, so don't let me buck the trend. His horribly over-sentimental and repetitive ballads dominate the film to the point where another spews from the speakers seemingly every five minutes. But if you're a fan you'll be in for a treat, I guess.

The animation is a stunning mixture of hand-drawn and computer-generated, a combination dubbed "tradigital" as it is both traditional and digital. The scenery is majestic and the characters move exactly like their real life equivalents.

And perhaps that's the problem. The film-makers haven't taken enough artistic license to really make the characters and animation truly engaging. In a way, it's like the trap that Final Fantasy fell into - so realistic that you wonder why they didn't just shoot live action. The playful "stretch and squash" and mild suspension of the laws of physics that characterise most animation is not present here, and so ironically the perfectly captured motion looks stilted and boring.

Dreamworks' previous animated release was mega-hit Shrek, and it's funny to think that they followed up that irreverent cartoony comedy with this overly earnest historical fable. Predictably enough, Spirit didn't earn nearly as much as its predecessor, but it still did respectable business.

  Video
Contract

Poi-fect. The use of a wide widescreen ratio - 2.35:1 to be precise - was a wise choice on the film-makers part, imbuing the landscapes with a real sense of vastness and the scope of an old-style, Sergio Leone western. It's a flawless 16:9 enhanced picture that really does justice to the superbly detailed animation and gorgeously coloured backgrounds.

  Audio
Contract

The good: a superb Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack that makes great use of surrounds and subwoofer (when necessary) to create an immersive and engaging aural experience.

The bad: Bryan Adams. 'Nuff said.

  Extras
Contract

The directors and producer give us one of those commentaries. "This film was the highlight of my career... everyone was so nice and brilliant... the production was an incredible journey... ooh watch this bit, it's my favourite." God bless their enthusiasm, I guess.

Learn to Draw Spirit is a short featurette hosted by James Baxter, lead animator of the Spirit character. It's actually a lot more interesting than I expected, as Baxter goes through the drafting process in four simple and logical steps. And it reinforces the thought that drawing nothing but horses for nigh on two years must have been a challenge, to say the least. It's a complex animal!

The Animation of Spirit is an interesting look at the integration of hand-drawn 2D and computer-generated 3D animation. There's a lot packed into this seven minute featurette, and its a shame it isn't longer.

The Songs of Spirit takes us through composer Hans Zimmer and soft rock star Bryan Adams' contributions to the film. Zimmer's comments and behind-the-scenes revelations are interesting and articulate, whereas Adams' interview is a little less substantial, but he comes across as a nice enough fellow.

Three sets of storyboards that play panel-by-panel, with or without directors' commentary, are a nice addition. These rough but accomplished sketches seem to have more life and personality than the comparatively sterile and overly polished finished animation.

The international star talent featurette shows us some of the overseas celebrities who dubbed the film into their respective languages. There aren't any big names that Australian audiences will recognise, but it's still a worthy little extra.

There are two games that are pretty unimpressive. Cimarron Slam is a basic Bank Panic-style shoot-em-up game (which is really a contrast with the ethos of the film), whereas Mustang Derby is a rather ordinary racing game wherein you have to pump the right arrow button as quickly as you can to win beat the other horses. It seems to have a slight glitch though... after a few tries, I finally won by simply not pressing anything!

Favourite scenes let's you skip to eight of the film-makers' favourite bits. Woo-hoo.

There are a score of kid-oriented DVD-ROM features that this DVD-ROM deprived reviewer couldn't access (blush). The most interesting looking is the Spirit Make-A-Movie Studio, wherein (and I quote) you can "create your own movie using real backgrounds, characters, music and sound effects from the film. You can also record your own narration and import your favourite photos to personalise your movie!"

There are also twelve children's activities that let the kids colour in pictures and print their own posters and calendars.

  Overall  
Contract

With its lack of dialogue, a non-human main character, the ground-breaking combination of traditional and digital animation and its shortage of cheap cartoonish gags, Spirit bucks a lot of trends for a family-oriented animated film. If only it was as engaging as it was worthy. Top quality video, audio and extras make this a great purchase for the kids' Christmas stockings, if not for the more mature animation aficionado in your life.


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      And I quote...
    "... a well-intentioned, beautifully crafted and technically superb animated masterpiece that will probably bore most adult viewers to tears, but a younger demographic should love it to death."
    - Terry Oberg
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Player:
          Palsonic DVD3000
    • Receiver:
          Diamond
    • Speakers:
          Diamond
    • Centre Speaker:
          Diamond
    • Surrounds:
          Diamond
    • Subwoofer:
          Diamond
    • Audio Cables:
          Standard RCA
    • Video Cables:
          Standard Component RCA
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